Africa is home to a stunning variety of birds and most of our regular safari destinations support hundreds of different species. Many first time safari goers focus solely on seeing the Big Five and don’t realise what a bonus and delight the continent’s birds can be with their spectacular colours, incredible variety and sometimes incredible numbers.

On safari there will be days when the larger, more iconic animals move out of the area or become elusive, but birds are everywhere and an interest in these wonderful creatures means there will never be a dull moment on safari. And while you are quietly bird watching, those rare mammals you travelled halfway across the world to see often make a surprise appearance!

An icon is not always the biggest, the fastest, the flashiest or the most pervasive. No, it is something more than that. An icon is something that captures the spirit of a time or the essence of a place. It’s different for everyone. We compile a list of the most iconic birds in Africa.

1. The Martial Eagle (Polemaetus bellicosus)

With a wingspan of almost 2.6 meters, the Martial Eagle is South Africa’s largest raptor. Its eyesight is so keen that it can spot potential prey from over 5km away. Add to this its powerful build, capable of lifting prey up to 8kg in weight, and you have a formidable predator. The Martial Eagle is widespread and yet uncommon being very shy of humans.

2. The Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus)

This little bird is South Africa’s only endemic parrot. Its entire life and habit is linked to South Africa’s national tree, the Yellowwood. The parrot feeds on the fruit and nests in its branches and so, their fates linked. As the habitat of the yellowwood has shrunk, so has the population of the Cape Parrot.

3. Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres)

At over a meter in length, Cape Vultures are huge. It is Southern Africa’s only endemic vulture species, can live for over 30 years and, despite living in colonies of over a thousand birds, has only one breeding partner. They are unfortunately severely under threat and have been recently upgraded to the status of endangered.

4. Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

Another species occurring in all nine provinces, the Secretarybird is charismatic and unmistakable. Wearing what looks like black trousers, the Secretarybird is the only long-legged raptor. At over 4ft tall, the Secretarybird gets its name from the crest of long feathers that look like the quill pens that 19th-century office workers used to tuck behind their ears. Seeing a Secretarybird for the first time, moving through the bush in search of snakes and other reptiles, is thrilling!

5. Southern Red Bishop (Euplectes orix)

Spend any time in Africa and you are likely to come across this vivid, black and bright red little weaver. They are widely distributed throughout the region except for the Kalahari and are most commonly found close to water. They are social birds nesting in large communities in reed beds and males are polygamous with hareems of up to seven females.

The Red Bishop is a bright, brazen character that features on any road-trip and forms a cornerstone of many South African memories.